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The Arab Spring of 2011 triggered turmoil across the Middle East. In Egypt, thousands died in clashes with security forces. Analysts say the country has never been this divided, so it's not surprising that there are sharply competing narratives of recent events. NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo reports on claims that the Egyptian government is trying to rewrite history.

MOHAMED YOUSEF: (Foreign language spoken)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Mohamed Yousef is a tall, handsome practitioner of kung fu. In fact, he's an Egyptian champion. But a month ago, he made a fateful decision. When he collected his gold medal at the world championships in Russia, he put on a yellow shirt with a picture of a hand holding up four fingers. That's the symbol of Rabaa al-Adawiya, the Cairo square where security forces opened fire on supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Hundreds were killed, among them, seven of Yousef's friends.

YOUSEF: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: I wanted them with me that day, he says. I wanted them to rejoice in my win. I wanted them to be remembered. He says the military backed government is doing everything it can to make people forget. Yousef paid a price for his decision that day in Russia. He was suspended from the national team, summoned home and stripped of his medal. Some people here are calling him a traitor, and his story is not unique.

There are the young girls in Ismailiya who were arrested and strip-searched just for passing out yellow balloons, the soccer player who was suspended for flashing the four-finger symbol after scoring a goal. The high school student arrested for having a ruler with that same symbol. And the list goes on.

YOUSEF: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Mohamed Yousef says his T-shirt is a sign of solidarity aimed at reminding the Egyptian army of its crimes. There is a battle these days over who gets to tell Egypt's recent history. Democracy activists say Egypt's military backed leaders are quickly trying to rewrite it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

FADEL: In Tahrir Square, the government erected a monument to honor those killed during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. That night, the circular brick structure was destroyed, picked apart by angry demonstrators. Activists say the monument insults their memories and their cause. They say police killed these protesters. They weren't held accountable, and now they are being celebrated as heroes.

And in Rabaa al-Adawiya, all signs of the mass killing that took place there on August 14th are gone. The graffiti is painted over. The mosque that was the center of the protest movement is a pristine white again. And a monument has been erected: a ball surrounded by two metal structures that are supposed to represent the police and the army protecting the people.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

FADEL: A young man walks by. At this rate, he says, Egypt's written history probably won't even include the mass killings that happened here. Karim Medhat Ennarah is a criminal justice researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

KARIM MEDHAT ENNARAH: There's no acknowledgement of any wrongdoing in part of the government.

FADEL: He says police brutality has steadily gotten worse over the past three years of transition. And now, after so much of Egypt turned on the Muslim Brotherhood over its bad leadership, the police and the military feel emboldened.

ENNARAH: Obviously, they're going to lie about the history of what happened in the last two years, about what their position was in it, and they're going to, you know, create their own narrative and enforce it.

FADEL: Every government before this one did the same. But this time, Ennarah says, the military backed leaders have enough public support to co-opt the narrative.

ENNARAH: But right now they can get away with it. And right now they don't feel public pressure.

FADEL: Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been protesting for months. More than a thousand are dead and thousands more detained. Now, the government calls the Brotherhood terrorists, says they are trying to destabilize the state and must be crushed. Perhaps the most egregious example of injustice recently occurred in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria.

BISHR MOHAMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Bishr Mohamed's daughter Sumaya is just 18. And this week, she was sentenced to 11 years and one month in prison along with 13 other young women. Why? Because, her father says, she was near a peaceful protest where demonstrators carry the yellow poster that symbolizes the mass killing of Brotherhood supporters. She was convicted of joining a terrorist organization and inciting violence. Before her arrest on October 31st, she'd never spent the night outside her father's home.

MOHAMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Bishr says: When I visited her, she asked me if I was proud of her. I told her, yes. These girls are resilient and strong. They're standing up for all our rights.

MOHAMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He reflects on the arrests and the monuments in Cairo, lauding the army and the police. He says it's like having the person who kills you attend your funeral. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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